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DEC Proposes Changes to Brownfield Cleanup Process to Help Increase Community Revitalization

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today proposed two new policies to speed up the time it takes for abandoned, contaminated industrial parcels known as brownfields to go from community blight to community asset.

The proposals will streamline the process by allowing certain properties to pre-qualify for inclusion in the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) and by shortening the time frame from application approval to execution of a cleanup agreement with the state. As a result, communities will know sooner about the potential to remediate and market properties for reuse and redevelopment.

Commissioner Grannis joined with local officials to make the announcement at a news conference today at Buffalo City Hall. The suggestion for pre-qualification was first proposed by the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, as part of the ongoing efforts to redevelop areas of known or suspected contamination.

"New York's brownfield programs are important economic engines for communities large and small throughout the state," Commissioner Grannis said. "Because of that, DEC continues to look for ways to make the programs more successful. The changes proposed today will help provide earlier predictability to private developers and further assist communities in marketing sites."

Mayor Byron W. Brown said: "During our administration, the City of Buffalo - along with Buffalo Urban Development Corporation - has maintained an excellent working relationship with the DEC regional office. I have joined Regional Director Abby Snyder on many occasions - especially at our successful Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park - to showcase the successful use of DEC programs such as the Brownfield Cleanup Program, the Environmental Restoration Program, and the state Superfund cleanup program. I applaud Commissioner Pete Grannis and his staff for soliciting local input regarding how DEC programs can be improved and streamlined, and we appreciate the fact that they chose to debut some of their proposed changes in Buffalo, where some of the ideas had their genesis."

Senator Antoine M. Thompson said: "As Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, I am pleased that the DEC is proposing new procedures to shorten the timeframe for executing brownfield cleanup agreements. My district is home to several brownfields and it is exciting to think that we can expedite the turnaround time between an area being considered a hindrance to it becoming an asset for the community. This ability is especially important because it will create good paying jobs and may increase property values, something that is sorely needed during these difficult economic times."

Senator Bill Stachowski, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business, said: "These changes to the Brownfield Cleanup Program process will help us advance our economic development opportunities and make it easier to bring new businesses to Buffalo and New York State. Combined with our efforts to reform the Empire Zone Program and our desire to make industrial development agencies (IDAs) more relevant in creating new, good paying jobs for our residents, the changes to the program can only be seen as beneficial to those who work so hard to bring these sites back to life."

Craig Turner, Senior Policy Director for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and speaking on behalf of Unshackle Upstate, said: "From our first conversations with Commissioner Grannis, it was clear he understood that the timely redevelopment of brownfields is a lynchpin to the revitalization of the Upstate urban landscape. We are pleased to stand with Commissioner Grannis today and into the future as he continues his important work to strengthen the state's brownfield program."

DEC Regional Director Abby Snyder said: "DEC is committed to community revitalization through the cleanup of brownfield sites. Many of the proposed changes that will streamline and improve the statewide brownfield cleanup process were generated locally through input from stakeholders like the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation and are reflective of the strong community partnerships that we value."

Public- and Private-Sector Incentives

In 2003, the state revised the Superfund/Brownfield law to incentivize private- and public-sector cleanups of contaminated properties. The BCP offers tax credits and limited liability releases to private parties who redevelop sites. The Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) program reimburses municipalities and community-based organizations up to 90 percent of the costs of implementing area-wide planning around brownfield redevelopment.

For many BOA communities, a lack of certainty about whether specific sites could qualify for state incentives at times hampered their ability to market the area's potential to developers. Under the Commissioner's proposal, a municipality or community organization may ask DEC for a "pre-determination" on whether property within a BOA study area is eligible for the Brownfield Cleanup Program. Even if a parcel is deemed eligible, it would still have to be formally accepted into the program. But, the pre-determination will speed the application process and give predictability to private developers that might be interested in investing.

In addition, DEC is proposing new procedures that will shorten the time frame for executing brownfield cleanup agreements. Currently, the time from DEC's receipt of a complete BCP application until the execution of a legal cleanup agreement has ranged from several weeks to many months. By expediting the review process and format, DEC expects to be able to send applicants a cleanup agreement in about 45 days.